Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Movement on judicial transparency?

Earlier in the year, Green MP Kennedy Graham put his Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill [PDF], which would force members of the judiciary to disclose their interests and hence their potential conflicts of interest, into the ballot. Now, thanks to the demise of former Justice Wilson, it looks like the government may adopt the idea.

This is a good move. Like politicians, judges are in a position of power and subject to potential conflicts of interest. And like politicians, we can't just trust them to behave honourably. While I have a lot more confidence in our judges than I do in our MPs, the integrity of our justice system is not something we should have to take on faith. We should be able to know that everything is above-board. And that means being able to scrutinise the interests of judges to ensure they do not behave in a corrupt fashion.

OTOH, I'm not sure how far we can trust Attorney-General Chris Finlayson on this. He's pointed at the Law Commission's review of the Judicature Act (which governs the structure and operation of the courts) as a vehicle for advancing this, but the Law Commission explicitly states that

It is not intended that the review will revisit major matters of policy underlying the present legislation.
So, either that intention has changed, or Finlayson is just giving us the brush off and continuing to protect the powerful from democratic scrutiny. Which is it?